Despite Possible Heart Condition, Clippers Slated to Draft Final Four MOP


Jared Butler, Baylor

If the Los Angeles Clippers select Baylor’s Jared Butler with the 25th pick in this year’s NBA draft, as The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor predicts they will in his latest mock draft, published Monday, it will mean the climax to a wild few months for the 6-foot-3 junior guard.

In April, Butler and fellow Baylor stars Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague led the school to its first-ever national basketball championship, defeating previously unbeaten and overall No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the title game.

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Butler was named the Final Four’s most outstanding player, totaling 39 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds over the two final games (8-for-14 from 3-point territory), and on May 30 he declared for the NBA draft.

At the time, The Athletic’s John Hollinger had Butler as No. 11 on his list of top prospects, while Sam Vecenie projected Butler as “in the mix for teams in the 20 to 35 range, as long as the pre-draft process goes smoothly.”

But the pre-draft process did not go smoothly. Far from it.

Heart Condition Stalls Butler’s Pre-Draft Plans

On June 22, Butler, who was diagnosed with a heart condition before his freshman year at Alabama (he transferred to Baylor without ever seeing the floor for the Crimson Tide), was barred from playing or practicing in the NBA until he was cleared by a Fitness-To-Play panel.

The panel, which consists of three physicians, was added to the collective bargaining agreement in 2017 and is initiated when a team disagrees with a player over their physical capacity to play. The panel’s inclusion in the CBA stemmed in large part from the controversy surrounding a career-ending blood-clotting condition developed by former NBA star Chris Bosh.

Though Butler was still allowed to conduct interviews and meetings, he was unable to partake in scouting combines, pre-draft camps or individual team workouts, possibly meaning NBA teams would not get another look at the 20-year old before the July 29 draft.

But perhaps more importantly to Butler’s draft status, the sidelining could have sown fear in the minds of NBA front offices who are reasonably risk-averse when it comes to heart conditions — particularly in the decades following the heart-related deaths of Len Bias (’86), Pete Maravich (’88), Hank Gathers (’90) and Reggie Lewis (’93).

Clippers’ free-agent forward Nicolas Batum faced a similar scenario (albeit before the existence of the fitness-to-play panel) back in 2008 when a pre-draft workout with the Toronto Raptors was canceled after Batum failed a stress-test on his heart. Nicolas’s father, a professional basketball player in France, died on the court when Batum was just two, the cause of which was first thought to be a heart attack but later ruled a brain aneurism. Batum just finished his 13th year in the league.

On July 17, a little less than a month after being barred, Butler was cleared by the panel and allowed to resume on-court activities. Though doubts may still linger, it’s all but certain that Butler will be drafted, and if he’s still available to the Clippers at No. 25 it could be in part because of his heart concerns.

Nonetheless, assuming his cardiac issues are indeed no longer in question, Butler could be a nice fit for a Clippers team facing issues at point guard.

Scorer With Primary Playmaker Potential

It’s been widely speculated that the Clippers are in the market this summer for an upgrade at point guard. 33-year-old Patrick Beverley, though still highly effective defensively, is not getting any younger and his $14.3 million is a problem for the cash-strapped Clippers. If the Clippers can’t find a buyer for Beverley, they could be forced to relinquish free agent Reggie Jackson, who emerged during the playoffs as a potent scoring option and is in line for a pay raise. And mid-season pickup Rajon Rondo looks like he may be rapidly approaching the end of his career.

The Clippers have been rumored to have interest in Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie, but landing him would require getting him and the Nets to agree to a sign-and-trade deal. Not a sure thing by any stretch and a move that would require giving up players in return. Same too for New Orleans’ Lonzo Ball and San Antonio’s point guard/wing DeMar DeRozan.

Drafting Butler, however, could help mitigate some of these issues. Known mostly as a scorer at Baylor, O’Connor writes that Butler has “improved as a playmaker during his three years in college,” and calls him a “creative passer” who has what it takes to play the 1 in the NBA.

“[Butler] displays the necessary vision and skills that could help him make the jump from secondary playmaker to primary,” wrote O’Connor.

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Last season, Butler averaged 4.8 assists for the Bears — a good number for the college ranks, especially given that Mitchell himself averaged 5.5 assists — but was prone to turning over the ball due to risky passing.

“He’s a risk-taker who occasionally tries to make a difficult pass when he should make a safe one,” wrote O’Connor, “and he doesn’t always put enough velocity on the ball.” Butler averaged 2.8 turnovers last season.

But while his passing may need improvement, O’Connor views Butler, who averaged 16.7 points last season on 47.1% from the field and 41.6% from behind the arc, as an NBA-ready scorer. Summing up Butler’s strengths offensively, O’Connor wrote:

Good scorer off the dribble; he’s most potent in the pick-and-roll, as he can pull up for deep 3s or split screens and get to the rim, where he can finish with either hand.
Versatile spot-up shooting threat who relocates like a veteran around the perimeter and has excellent footwork coming off screens.

Despite noting Butler’s ability to finish at the rim with both hands, and observing that he “doesn’t shy from contact,” O’Connor reports that the athletically-average Butler is a “below-the-rim finisher” and struggles to draw fouls.

Defensively, O’Connor calls Butler a “high-effort on-ball defender and instinctive team defender who jumps passing lanes for deflections and rotates to protect the rim.” All of which would be benefits in the NBA, but O’Connor also notes that his upside defensively could be limited to due to his stature, which O’Connor describes as “undersized.”

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